There was a time when India and Pakistan were hardly put in the same group of a global cricket event. Supporters of the two arch-rivals had to wait for 17 years to see them lock horns in the 50-over World Cup. India and Pakistan played their first match in the 50-over World Cup only in 1992 when the tournament ws played in a round-robin format.
Since then, the two teams have played frequently against each other in the World Cup. In the next six World Cups, they have met five times with India winning all the encounters. Of these five encounters, two were scheduled matches (2003 and 2015) while the rest three were either in the second or super round (1999) or knock-outs (1996 and 2011).
In the T20 World Cup, too, India and Pakistan were placed in the same group in the very first edition played in 2007. Thereafter, they met in 2012, 2014 and 2016 (they were in the same group in the last two editions while they met in the super eight stage in 2012.
In Champions Trophy, this is the third consecutive time that India and Pakistan have been placed in the same group, after 2009 and 2013, and fourth overall (they were in the same group in the 2004 edition as well).
Records, in fact, say that the 2017 Champions Trophy will see India and Pakistan in the same group in the sixth consecutive tournament since 2012.
Why is the frequency of clubbing the arch-rivals so high nowadays?
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has admitted that it manipulates the draw so that it doesn't loses out on the revenue front. ICC chief executive David Richardson said on Wednesday that an India-versus-Pakistan match gives the tournament a "massive kick".
But does the kick only count? There was a time when Indian and Pakistani fans used to wait eagerly for a match in the World Cup. Their dreams came very close to reality in 1987 when both the Asian sides made the semi-finals but lost to the white arch-rivals-Australia and England-in their own den. Thereafter, when they met in a group-stage match in Sydney in 1992 for the first time in a World Cup, the excitement was tremendous. The first time the two teams met in the knock-out stage of a World Cup was in 1996 and it again had generated a massive frenzy.
It was perhaps Sachin Tendulkar's belting Pakistani pacer Shoaib Akhtar in the group match at Centurion in South Africa in the 2003 World Cup when the ICC started giving the thought of making India-Pakistan encounters regular at big events a bigger importance.
From the Champions Trophy of 2004 onwards, India and Pakistan have met almost every year in top cricketing events---be it in the 50-over World Cup, T20 World Cup or Champions Trophy besides playing in bilateral series.
From a time when India and Pakistan hardly met each other apart from Sharjah where Indians had a poor record of winning, the two teams did not have much scope of meeting. Now, it's an overdose of India-Pakistan encounters.
One big reason for the ICC to deliberately pitch for India-vs-Pakistan matches at big events could be the disastrous World Cup of 2007 in the West Indies. That year, both India and Pakistan lost to low-ranked teams like Bangladesh and Ireland, respectively, in the group stage to bow out of the tournament. With their departure, the entire tournament lost its sheen and the organisers were left distraught. Since the T20 World Cup which began later this year, India and Pakistan have met too frequently in big tournaments.
Another factor of these frequent meetings could be the weakening of Pakistan. Nothing is more ideal than India repeatedly beating Pakistan in world events since the Indian cricketers have a gigantic fan following and with each victory they earn over their arch-rivals, the business of cricket makes that many extra penny in the vast market called India. There is no end to this bottomless hunger and hence we continue to see the rivalry being renewed again and again.
But like the greedy man who killed his golden goose, what happens the day India-versus-Pakistan games lose their attraction owing to overdose? Lopsided results in India-Pakistan matches will either not help in the long run.
But for the businessmen, everything is about today. The romance with cricket is long lost. The interest will also be gone in no time.
Sania Mirza will also not be complaining if the teams don't meet so frequently.